In the first part of “What Makes a Liberal?” among the points I made — but could not develop in the space of a column — was that “liberal” and “left” have become indistinguishable. This is new. And it is a tragedy for the nation and the world.
When I grew up (I became a teenager in the early 1960s), “liberal” was not only not the same as “left,” it was often anti-left. My boyhood idol (whose presidency I still admire) was President John F. Kennedy. His liberalism is my liberalism to this day.
Kennedy advocated four major positions — lower taxes, expanded military, the use of American power to fight evil, and the centrality of God to American life and to morality. Liberals and their political party, the Democrats, have since rejected each of these positions, all of which are now considered conservative.
This is what Kennedy said in a speech to the Economic Club of New York on Dec. 14, 1962:
“This administration pledged itself last summer to an across-the-board, top-to-bottom cut in personal and corporate income taxes to be enacted and become effective in 1963.
“I’m not talking about a quickie or a temporary tax cut, which would be more appropriate if a recession were imminent; nor am I talking about giving the economy a mere shot in the arm to ease some temporary complaint. I am talking about the accumulated evidence of the last five years that our present tax system, developed as it was in good part during World War II to restrain growth, exerts too heavy a drag on growth in peace time; that it siphons out of the private economy too large a share of personal and business purchasing power; that it reduces the financial incentives for personal effort, investment and risk-taking.”
No prominent liberal talks like this today. As the Left has taken over liberalism, liberals have come to advocate more and more taxation. Liberals have also adopted the classic Marxist analysis of society as a class struggle and its emphasis on equality over liberty.
As the Left has taken over liberalism, liberals, increasingly indistinguishable from pacifists, have come to oppose virtually every increase in military spending. By and large the Left holds military life in contempt. One proof is the liberal opposition to allowing ROTC programs or military recruiting on major college campuses.
As the Left has taken over liberalism, the notion that America should use its might to fight on behalf of liberty has been rejected. In his inaugural address, Kennedy said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Post-Kennedy leftists/liberals revile such talk, dismissing it as conservative and imperialist. A president who advocates unilateral American action against tyranny is no longer considered a moral liberal, but a reactionary cowboy.
As the Left has taken over liberalism, God and religion have been rejected as the source of America’s moral values. In his inaugural address, President Kennedy said,
” . . . the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.” Such words today come from George W. Bush and conservatives, not from a single prominent liberal.
That “left” and “liberal” have become indistinguishable is further demonstrated by the fact that The New York Times, the leading media voice of liberalism, identifies The Nation — by its own definition a leftist journal, indeed, a radical one — as “liberal.” Likewise, the left wing of the Democratic Party is regularly referred to as the liberal wing of the party.
Want more proof of the leftist takeover of liberalism? Ask a liberal to name some major issues on which liberalism and the Left differ. Be prepared for silence.